Over two million people in the UK have a visual impairment, and employment opportunities for this huge cohort are still woefully inadequate.
For many people with disabilities however, finding employment that matches their skills and experience is often not the end of discriminatory employment practice, but the beginning.
Many people with visual impairments report feeling marginalised within the workplace not only by managerial assumptions about their competencies, but also by the attitudes and behaviour of more immediate colleagues. They report uncomfortable working relationships and an unwillingness on the part of many of their peers to engage with them as equals, resulting for many in extreme workplace isolation.
Disability discrimination in the workplace is not generally malicious or premeditated. It is often the result of unconscious bias, a lack of information and education, and a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing for fear of causing offence, which often ironically causes far greater offence. For example, “Did you watch TV last night” ‘Did you see that’? ‘Did you hear that’?
Benefits of inclusion
Disability awareness training is a great opportunity for your business/organisation to take the lead when it comes to these issues, and to ensure your organisation is as harmonious, collaborative and non-discriminatory as possible. This not only benefits employees/customers with disabilities, but has impacts that are felt at every level of your company or organisation.
Research increasingly demonstrates that when employees respect and share the values of an enlightened employer, job satisfaction and productivity increase, as does employee retention, whilst absenteeism decreases dramatically. Similarly, open and honest communication within a business and between colleagues is consistently shown to be one of the principal routes to increased productivity.
It is also evident that having confident and well trained staff that have undergone visual impairment awareness training puts customers with visual impairments at ease, making them more likely to return and spend money within the organisation. Research shows that people with disabilities have a spending power of 212 million, so why would you not want to retain these customers?
There are also many proven key benefits to retaining a diverse workforce - including people with disabilities - by ensuring they are valued and respected. Employees from minority groups, and particularly those with disabilities, are massively underrepresented in the workforce, and their uniquely valuable perspectives often provide access to consumer markets that are often overlooked or poorly addressed.
Ultimately, becoming a disability confident workplace works in the self-interest of every organisation, whilst making your company a more enlightened place to work, and helping to change attitudes and behaviours for the better on a macro level. As more companies adopt these progressive policies, they slowly become the norm, radiating out through supply networks and business partnerships to the wider community.
Disability confidence in action
Practically, what does a disability confident workplace look like? In essence, it is about creating a supportive, positive and inclusive environment for all workers. In a disability confident workplace employees are informed about disability issues and are confident that their interactions with disabled colleagues will not cause offence, and as a result staff with disabilities feel respected, included and treated with equality.
How exactly is this confidence and harmony achieved? Disability awareness training works by challenging attitudes amongst both those with and without a disability, increasing understanding of disability issues. Courses encourage employees to discuss their preconceptions of disability and their fears of interacting with people with disabilities.
Courses also provide a wealth of information on a range of disabilities, including acquired disabilities, hearing and visual impairments, learning disabilities and issues surrounding mental health. Often role play is also used to encourage people without disabilities to place themselves in the position of someone with a disability, and to encourage an empathy and understanding of the experiences many people with disabilities face.
All of these strategies – education, information and empathy – are about closing the experience gap between those employees without disabilities and those with disabilities; in the same process, it is about removing barriers and embedding best practice so that everyone feels comfortable and empowered to be themselves within the workplace, to flourish and to achieve their full potential. Because when your team are achieving their full potential, so is your business.
It might be that you work with an employee or customer who has sight loss but are unsure on how to guide them or avoid certain terminology as you think it might offend them.
For more information on visual impairment awareness training